This coming Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the football teams from the two major institutions of higher learning in Los Angeles will meet for the 82nd time.
Over the past eight decades, this rivalry between UCLA’s Bruins and USC’s Trojans have featured epic clashes for the Victory Bell, clashes that have decided Rose Bowl berths and national championships.
Not that those were the only games that have become classics as one of the most memorable battles between the Bruins and the Trojans happened in 1996, when UCLA won 48-41 in a double-overtime thriller.
The Bruins were 4-6 going into that game at the Rose Bowl while USC was 5-5, so nothing was on the line that day save for pride; no Pac-10 title, no Rose Bowl bid (or bowl bid of any kind), nothing except for that Victory Bell.
They have also featured All-American players that have gone on to become household names in the NFL with busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Over the years, I have wondered what would be the starting lineups for an all-time ultimate UCLA vs. USC football game, and after a little research I’ve come up with 52 players – 26 for UCLA and 26 for USC, plus the coaches and one honorable mention for each side – on offense, defense and special teams that I would want to play in this ultimate Crosstown Rivalry game if I were able to choose.
I must emphasize that this is not a simple listing of the all-time teams; there are many players that were more than deserving to be starters in this game, guys that had better statistics than the players I chose and who went on to stardom in the pros, that I regretfully left out because the players that I chose are the guys that in this one game would have the best chance to beat their rival.
So before people get hysterical that their favorite players were left out, my apologies in advance, and please know that those standouts I left out would most likely be substitutes in this game.
So let’s go ahead and announce the starters for this ultimate Crosstown Showdown between these Bruins from Westwood and Trojans from just south of Downtown L.A…
UCLA BRUINS – OFFENSE:
QB: Cade McNown – I take this lefty over Troy Aikman because although Aikman won three Super Bowls in four years, one statistic stands out: Aikman was 0-2 against USC, while McNown was the only UCLA quarterback to beat the Trojans four times.
RB: Gaston Green – who until just recently was the Bruins’ all-time rushing leader.
RB: Freeman McNeil
WR: J.J. Stokes
WR: Danny Farmer
TE: Marcedes Lewis
OL: Jonathan Ogden, Kris Farris, Vaughn Parker, Randy Cross, and Frank Cornish
UCLA BRUINS – DEFENSE:
DL: Dave Ball (all-time Bruin sack leader), Mike Lodish, Terry Tumey, and Brian Price
LB: Ken Norton, Jr.
LB: Carnell Lake – All-time Bruin leader in tackles for loss.
LB: Jerry Robinson – Made more tackles than any Bruin ever.
DB: Kenny Easley – If I had to pick the one greatest defensive player in UCLA football history, this man would be it as he was a three-time consensus All-American.
DB: Carlton Gray
DB: Eric Turner
DB: James Washington
UCLA BRUINS – SPECIAL TEAMS:
KICKER: John Lee
PUNTER: Chris Sailer
KICK RETURNER: Maurice Jones-Drew
PUNT RETURNER: Jackie Robinson – Yes, he broke baseball’s color line, which makes him the greatest Bruin of all-time, but football was his best sport while in Westwood.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kenny Washington – He was UCLA’s first All-American in the 1930s, but because he did so many things well at so many positions, I just couldn’t find a starting spot for this legend.
COACH: Terry Donahue – Henry “Red” Sanders won UCLA’s only national championship in 1954, but Donahue is the only Bruin coach to have a winning record against USC, having beaten the Trojans ten times.
All right, now that the UCLA lineup is set, it’s time to go crosstown…
USC TROJANS – OFFENSE:
QB: Carson Palmer – Though Matt Leinart was 3-0 record against the Bruins with two of those three wins being blowouts, Palmer gets the nod here because I just think he has the better tools, while Leinart had a slew of All-Americans around him, particularly Reggie Bush. Clinching argument here: Leinart is currently Palmer’s backup on the Oakland Raiders.
RB: O.J. Simpson – The 64-yard winning touchdown run against the Bruins in 1967. The best pro career of any Trojan ever. Enough said.
RB: Marcus Allen – Another Heisman Trophy winner along with Palmer and Simpson.
WR: Keyshawn Johnson
WR: Lynn Swann – If Simpson was the best USC player in the NFL ever, Swann’s a solid second due to his Steeler exploits.
TE: Charles Young
OL: Ron Yary, Anthony Munoz, Bruce Matthews, Brad Budde, and Tony Boselli.
USC TROJANS – DEFENSE:
DL: Mike Patterson, Tim Ryan, Sedrick Ellis, and Willie McGinest
LB: Rey Maualuga – That wicked hit that he put on UCLA’s Patrick Cowan in 2006 gets him in this lineup by itself.
LB: Junior Seau – In my view, the all-time greatest USC linebacker.
LB: Jack Del Rio
DB: Ronnie Lott – Arguably the single greatest Trojan defensive player ever since everything Easley was with UCLA, Lott was with USC and more since he was 3-1 against Easley head-to-head.
DB: Troy Polamalu
DB: Tim McDonald
DB: Mark Carrier
USC TROJANS – SPECIAL TEAMS:
KICKER: Quin Rodriguez
PUNTER: Tom Malone
KICK RETURNER: Anthony Davis – Though it wasn’t against UCLA, Trojans still talk reverently about those touchdown returns that he had against Notre Dame in 1974.
PUNT RETURNER: Reggie Bush – The moves. The speed. Need I say more?
HONORABLE MENTION: Charles White – The only two reasons this Heisman winner is not a starter on this list: Allen and O.J.
COACH: John McKay – Apologies to those who loved Pete Carroll and his overwhelming teams, but McKay still won more national titles and remains USC’s all-time leader in wins.
These 52 Bruins and Trojans – 54 if you count the honorable mentions – would provide not only the ultimate battle for bragging rights to America’s second largest city, but perhaps the ultimate battle, period.
As for who would win this game? Here’s what I objectively think:
With these lineups and match-ups, USC would probably be favored because they lead the all-time series, but UCLA would offset that due to the extremely pronounced motivation that the Bruins would have.
With regret, I honestly could not speculate an outcome save for that it would likely be an overtime affair. After that, it would be an ultimate case of anybody’s game.
One thing is for certain: students, alumni and fans from both of these L.A. schools would pay anything to see a game featuring these standout players.
I sure would.